At this point, it’s safe to say that some New York Times Publishers are still engaged in a passionate quest to find a large group of Americans to blame for Donald Trump’s 2016 general election victory of Queens.
There is an obvious answer: white evangelicals. And it is certainly true that Independent Protestants and especially Pentecostals played a strategic role in the shocking rise of Orange Man Bad. It’s also true that independent evangelicals, fundamentalists, charismatics, and Pentecostal believers have played prominent roles in video-friendly pro-Trump events, including the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to hunt down the Vice President Mike Pence – a traditional white evangelical if there ever was one.
However, white evangelical voters were not the crucial Rust Belt voters who put Trump in the White House, although Latino evangelicals and charismatics were a major force in Florida.
Therefore, what are religiously informed readers supposed to think of this long and vague Time sermon that ran the other day with that dramatic two-story title? (Sorry for the delay in getting to this room, but surgery slowed me down last week.)
The growing religious fervor of the American right: “This is a movement of Jesus”
Rituals of Christian worship have become part of conservative gatherings, as music of praise and prayer mingle with political anger over vaccines and the 2020 election.
Here is a strong opinion that is taken – with his permission – from an email I received from Kenneth Woodward, for decades the religion pro at Newsweek and the author of “Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Ascent of Trump.”
It’s the most naive religious story I’ve read in decades and illustrates precisely why the Times still doesn’t understand religion.
Why does Woodward think this? To some extent, he criticizes a newspaper article for lacking the kind of depth seen in interpretive magazine articles produced during the heyday of religious work in Newsweek and to Weather by GetReligion Patriarch Richard Ostling. For a short time, Emma Green was allowed to do similar work at the Atlantic.
Depth is a problem here. But this Time is quite long and leaves plenty of room for anecdotes, whereas what is missing (again) is a solid skeleton of facts that link – if possible – these trends and illustrations to the actual denominations, publishers, para-ecclesiastical groups, think tanks and academic institutions at the heart of “gospel power”.
I’ll come back to Woodward’s pissed off review. But here’s the emotional opening at the start of the Time room. The first word is “they,” which kind of sets the tone for what follows:
They began with an invocation, summoning God’s “hedge of thorns and fire” to protect everyone in Phoenix’s dark parking lot.
They called for testimonials, passing the mic to anyone with “inspirational words they would like to say on behalf of our J-6 political prisoners”, referring to those arrested in connection with the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitolwhich they honored a year later.
Then, holding candles dripping with wax, the few dozen who were gathered raised their voices, a cappella, in a song cherished by millions of believers who sing it on Sundays and know its words by heart:
“Maker of ways, maker of miracles, keeper of promises
”Light in the darkness, my God
”It’s who you are…”
It was not a religious service. It was the cult of a new kind of congregation: a right-wing political movement fueled by divine purpose, whose adherents find spiritual sustenance in political action.
The Christian right has been closely tied to American conservatism for decades, culminating in the Trump era. And elements of Christian culture have long been present in political rallies. But worship, a sacred act showing devotion to God expressed by movement, song or prayer, was largely reserved for the church. Today, many believers import their worship of God, with all its intensity, emotion and ambition, into their political life.
All this seems new and important. I certainly agree that there is an important story here, in part because the rise of truly independent Protestant mega-churches and superstar pastors is a big issue affecting so many aspects of American life.
Yet this is only one element of American evangelicalism, even of “white” American evangelicalism. Again, the Time The team focuses on a niche and tries to say that it represents a whole complex movement. Yes, there are also elements of cultural law that play this game. But we are talking, in this case, of material produced by, arguably, the most influential newsroom in the world.
Let’s read more about attribution-free Time prose:
At events across the United States, it is not uncommon for attendees to describe their encounter with the divine and feel they are doing their part to bring God’s kingdom to earth. For them, right-wing political activity itself becomes a sacred act.
These Christians join secular right-wingers, including media-savvy opportunists and those who tout disinformation. They represent a wide range of discontent, from opposing vaccination mandates to promoting election conspiracy theories. For many, the pandemic restrictions that have temporarily closed places of worship have accelerated their distrust of government and made church practice political.
At a Trump rally in Michigan last weekend, a local evangelist delivered a prayer that read, “Heavenly Father, we firmly believe that Donald Trump is the current and true President of the United States.” He prayed “in the name of Jesus” that delegates from the constituency to Michigan’s upcoming Republican Party convention would support the Trump-endorsed candidates, whose names he listed to the crowd. “In the name of Jesus,” cheered the crowd.
Who was this Trump-esque evangelist? Anyone want to bet this unnamed superstar is from a local church that may or may not have ties to a major evangelical organization?
Now it’s true that the Time The team emphasizes the important role of charismatic believers in this drama. However, that’s about as many shades as you’ll find here. Did I miss concrete and factual links to the main groups of evangelical Christianity?
Return to Woodward. Allow me to share several blocks of material from his letter:
Apparently the news reported is the use of “praise music and other forms of worship – ‘sacred acts’ – at political rallies of Trumpists and other right-wing parties. But is this news of such a importance that it deserves the space the editors of the Times gave it? Does it deserve to be placed on the front page, just below the fold? Is it even news?
What is perhaps rather new is that “praise music” can be heard and some political rallies, and that is because the praise music itself is of recent vintage. That’s it.
The first thing to say about the story is that it is naive because it lacks historical context or even historical awareness. The authors briefly mention that “music, prayers, and religious symbols” have been used at other times in American history, but claim that what is happening now is somewhat different.
This is not the case. Indeed, what they report pales in comparison to the past. Consider: The martial anthem “Onward Christian Soldiers” has a long history of secular use, including how Winston Churchill appropriated it to support the Allied cause during World War II. M. L. King made marching, kneeling and singing hymns a sacred act at the heart of his strategy; Catholic masses and Protestant worship services, not to mention hymns and chants, kneeling and prayers, were staples of the anti-Vietnam protests. The Battle Hymn of the Republic single-handedly symbolizes the many ways Americans have always imbued wars as well as social and political movements with sacred purpose — and vice versa.
Yes the Time The article offers many colorful anecdotes, which Woodward says are a bit like the “vignettes” that “flying gossip columnists used to do around New York to report which celebrities dined at which restaurants the night before. “.
Woodward raised two other crucial points, starting with this editorial tip: “Lay your statistical foundation.”
Other than an estimated gathering of 2,000 attendees, we have no idea how big the events mentioned are, or how they might compare to similar gatherings that lack “religious fervor.”
We know that mega-churches, for whom a crowd of 2,000 is a disappointment, tend to shy away from politics. And we know this: According to sociologist Mark Chavez’s series of studies, liberal congregations are far more likely to be politically active than conservative congregations, again suggesting that these people live on the fringes of American religious life.
I will stop there. Please read the Time piece and let me know if you see any examples of kind reports on the facts that Woodward is looking for (perhaps this Godbeat veteran will post his full letter on Facebook).
Also, did I miss any details in my comments?
Read everything. This is an important topic and a valid story worth covering. The question is whether we are talking about a real national problem in wider evangelical life, worthy of A1 ink in the Timeor a colorful trend – which has its roots in American political life – in a noisy white evangelical subculture.
Comments, please. URLs and details will be appreciated.
FIRST IMAGE : “I love Christian music” .gif file, posted on Tenor.com